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Ryelandt, Joseph

Brugge, 07/04/1870 > Brugge, 29/06/1965


Ryelandt, Joseph

by Annelies Focquaert

Scion of a noble family, Joseph Ryelandt belonged to the francophone bourgeoisie of Bruges. In his native town he enjoyed an excellent upbringing, in the school holidays taking piano lessons from Franz De Vos in Ghent. After graduating from grammar school he studied philosophy at the university of Namur (1888 -1890) and also law just for a few months in Leuven, where Elisabeth Alberdingk Thijm gave him piano lessons, advising him also to study composition with Edgar Tinel. In March 1891 Ryelandt presented himself to Tinel with some works of his own and despite Tinel's initial refusal he finally got accepted as his one and only private pupil. Tutoring Ryelandt for 4 years, Tinel at that time being director of the Lemmens Institute vigorously inspired his pupil's taste for religious music.

In 1895 Ryelandt competed for the Prix de Rome, but he failed to earn a prize. Between 1895 and 1924 he was exclusively taken up by composing, gaining national as well as international recognition with his oratorios and cantatas.

In 1924 Ryelandt succeeded Karel Mestdagh as director of the Municipal Conservatory of Bruges, a position he held until 1945 (though interrupted from 1942 to 1944, when Renaat Veremans was temporary director). Between 1929 and 1939 he also taught counterpoint at the Conservatory of Ghent. In 1941 he became an active member of the Royal Academy of Belgium, later being honoured with the title of baron. He also wrote contributions for Durendal, Musica Sacra, Le Drapeau, La Revue Générale.

Ryelandt composed quite a lot - about 130 opus numbers - yet also destroyed several of his early works which he deemed immature. The first major work of his that could stand the test of self-criticism was the mystery play La Parabole des Vierges (1894). Later the opera Caecilia followed, created in 1902 in the Royal Flemish Opera of Antwerp, and oratorios such as Purgatorium (1904, created in 1907), De komst des Heeren (The Coming of the Lord, 1906), Maria (1909), Agnus Dei (1911) and Christus Rex (1922), which made his name and established his fame as a composer. Moreover his oeuvre contains a great amount of songs, both on French and Flemish texts (with a preference for his fellow-townsman Guido Gezelle); chamber music, including four string quartets, sonatas for cello and piano, clavier quintets; piano works such as sonatas, nocturnes or children's pieces.

His orchestral work counts five symphonies, several overtures and the symphonic poem Gethsemane. Naturally, being a Christian composer to the core he left behind plenty of religious works as well: masses, motets, a Te Deum (both in a concert version and for a church performance), the above-mentioned oratorios and several cantatas, among them De Zang van de armoede (The Song of Poverty), Stabat Mater, Flos Carmelis, De Heilige Kerk (The Holy Church), Mors Vita, Veni Creator and De Goede Herder (The Good Shepherd). After 1944 he decided not to compose any longer.

Thus Ryelandt - just like his tutor Tinel - was mainly oriented towards choral composing, with oratorio and cantata as major structures. In these works he was able to merge his mystic penchant and his profound faith with a traditional and poised style and romantic harmonies, resulting in music of a totally idiosyncratic nature.

"Ryelandt affirms his artistic personality on the basis of the great traditions which he  always wants to stand by. He starts from Tinel's classical romanticism with contrapuntal slant, broadening his harmonic idiom under the influence of the Wagnerian modulation, the Franckistic chromaticism and the Faurean melodic subtlety", as Marcel Boereboom characterises Ryelandt's style.

In his Notice sur Edgar Tinel Ryelandt asked himself: "how is the modern of relevance to the future?”  He provided the answer: “The only thing that matters is to create true beauty, to have something to say. Whether you are a forerunner or lag behind: if you are not an artist of your times, you will be one of the future. Has Bach followed the new trend of his time? No. But we couldn't care less: he is of all times." Apparently Ryelandt not only talks about Tinel here, but also about himself.

© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek vzw - Annelies Focquaert (translation: Jo Sneppe)